Kirby Dick fights The Invisible War
Hard-hitting doc investigates horrifying rape statistics among women in the U.S. military
One in every five American servicewomen will be sexually assaulted during her military service. That’s a horrifying percentage, and one that’s illustrated in painful detail over the course of Kirby Dick’s documentary The Invisible War.
In a phone interview tied to Entertainment One’s DVD release of the film this week, Dick, whose body of work includes This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Outrage and the Oscar-nominated Twist of Faith, lays out his mission statement.
“We really wanted to show the way the system was set up to allow these perpetrators to operate very freely within the military,” he says. “And when the [assaulted] women and men had the courage to come and report, to have the military turn on them, that systemic aspect of it was something we really wanted to show as well. We wanted [to] immerse you in the experiences of these women and men.”
The strategy proved pretty effective when Dick brought The Invisible War to Sundance and Hot Docs earlier this year.
“When the film was at Sundance,” Dick recalls, “an usher who’s been there for more than a decade came up to us and said, ‘You know. I’ve seen many, many films at Sundance, I’ve never seen an audience react to a film the way they reacted to The Invisible War.’ So we’re really, really happy the film has had that effect on people, whether or not they’ve been in the military.”
In addition to making audiences feel angry and aghast – which also happened during the doc’s theatrical run this summer – The Invisible War is getting results. The U.S. military has already changed the structure of sexual assault investigations to keep serial predators from preying on underlings without fear of exposure, and Dick’s hoping for more developments soon.
“Most of the branches [of the military] are very receptive to trying to address this issue,” Dick says. “They have a long way to go, and I think this election has sort of put things on hold for a while; I don’t think anybody really wanted to move too fast while the election was going on. We’re hopeful that things will pick up again and start moving forward next year.”
He’s also hoping to see more women assume positions of power within the military. “As more and more women come in, obviously that’s going to help put pressure for change,” he says. “And as younger people come in who are more accepting of women in the military, I think that also will help change things. There’s a really strong idealism within the military, and most people in the military want to have the best military they can have, that’s the most just and the most fair for everyone. But a lot of that change has to come from the top, so that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Dick’s also happy that he was able to expand upon his film’s issues in the DVD’s supplemental section, which includes a particularly powerful featurette documenting a VetWow retreat for survivors of military sexual trauma.
“We’d actually hoped that would be part of the film,” Dick says, “and we just couldn’t structurally fit it in. But it was a very powerful experience for us, and for them. Nothing like this has ever been filmed, and it’s very powerful and moving to me, and I’m truly glad I was able to get it on the DVD ... it is so cathartic for them to be sitting in a room with all these other women and hearing them talk about [all] having had the same experience, because there is such a tendency for everyone who’s a survivor to somehow blame themselves, [while] in reality almost every one of them – was the victim of a serial perpetrator who had probably committed these crimes many times before.”
Dick’s also encouraged by the pushback from American voters against Republican candidates who expressed a certain contempt for the victims of sexual assault – and a profound disregard for women in general – in this month’s election. He feels that the fact that Americans rejected openly misogynistic candidates demonstrates that the nation is ready to confront the alpha-male military culture detailed in his film.
“Even though it’s come from [some] very heinous comments,” he says, “the fact that we’re talking about it is a very good thing.”